June 26, 2003

Flower carries Zimbabwe to victory

Zimbabwe 195 for 6 (Flower 96*) beat England 191 for 8 (Flintoff 53) by four wickets

Early breakthrough: the impressive Heath Streak removes Vikram Solanki

Grant Flower led Zimbabwe to a memorable and surprising win against England in the opening match of the NatWest Series at Trent Bridge. Chasing a modest 192, Flower rescued the innings from a disastrous 15 for 4, and with the help of Stuart Matsikenyeri, he guided Zimbabwe home with a comfortable 13 balls to spare.

After a quiet start to his innings, Flower played with a mixture of aggression and defence, and was rarely flustered in his 96 not out. He masterminded the comeback and stayed calm while wickets fell around him. It wasn't a blistering innings, but it was a masterclass in how to chase with minimum risk. Placement rather than power: that was the key to his innings.

His previous-best score in England was 53 at Lord's in 2000, and after his poor record of 71 runs in eight Test innings in this country, he wasn't exactly the man in form. However, he found some at just the right time for a jubilant Zimbabwe, and the wrong time for an embarrassed England.

Flower ensured Zimbabwe kept on top of the run chase, but there was a big role from the inexperienced Stuart Matsikenyeri, who scored an entertaining 44 from 55 balls. He rode his luck along the way, surviving a run-out chance and two dropped catches, but provided some much-needed impetus to the innings after their catastrophic start. He and Flower added a record 96 for the fifth wicket against England and he cracked three fours and one six off Anthony McGrath.

And his innings acted as a catalyst to get Flower going. He began slowly, but eventually broke his shackles when he sumptuously square-drove Andrew Flintoff for four, then swept Ashley Giles to the boundary in the following over. And then he didn't look back. He used his feet well to Giles and played him and the other bowlers straight without ever going for a panicky slog.

He danced down the track and drove Giles to the rope to bring up the hundred, and then did the same to McGrath in the following over. That shot signalled his fifty and suddenly Michael Vaughan realised Zimbabwe were back in with a shout. There were a few hiccups on the way, including the needless run-out of Streak, but with a steady support act from Sean Ervine (26), Flower ended a worthy hero.

But Vaughan and England will be scratching their heads after they got off to such a blistering start. Richard Johnson took only two balls to pick up the first of his two ODI wickets, and Darren Gough blasted two more to leave Zimbabwe in total tatters at 15 for 4. But as Flower and Matsikenyeri got things back on track, Vaughan failed to put on the pressure, and even an early return of Gough as a last throw of the dice failed to bring back the game.

And while Zimbabwe were enjoying a lap of honour after the game, Vaughan would have been ruing a poor first innings, in which England scored a dismal 191. It was a brave decision from Streak to bowl, but Ray Price (1 for 20) and Douglas Marillier (1 for 30) justified it with a controlled display of slow bowling from which England could not break free from. Marcus Trescothick made a rollicking start with a run-a-ball 38, and Andrew Flintoff gave England a chance with a stubborn 53, but it in the end it wasn't enough.

Click here for the Wisden Verdict